SEO and Big Search

Okay, so now that lunch is over (I almost had food. It was exciting!) we’re going to be hearing about how the search engines tackle SEO for their own sites. Moderator Joseph Morin jumps right in by introducing the panellists: Melanie Mitchell for AOL, Dave Roth for Yahoo! Inc, and Maile Ohye, for Google.

Melanie Mitchell is up first.

When you’re talking about SEO it’s not about the engine itself, it’s how you manage it across the whole huge site. How do you optimize when the corporate culture and the site aren’t aligned. You can’t succeed without the support of the corporate culture particularly in the case of a large site?

How you do align the organization and how do you build a strategy that works? More importantly, it’s about how you go about making a search marketing program work at a company without losing your mind.

AOL has over 100 million pages. It’s an organizational and corporate challenge. You have to organize and track properly.

She brought the discipline a search marketing to the disorganization of the company. When she came to AOL in 2004, they were very disorganized. They weren’t designed for search because they didn’t have to be. They were a walled garden so they didn’t have to think about search bots. They weren’t set up to be search friendly, everything was disparate and in its own kingdom. So she had to come up with an SEO plan to change everything.

She got the CEO on board but the people who were supposed to impelement it just ignored it. She didn’t allow them to ignore her however and when up the ladder to sell it to everyone. “Vive le roi”. Roi in this case not being King but in fact ROI.

They had the information to show that the content available to succeed, they just didn’t yet have the way to put the content out there in a way that would pull people in. [I have no idea what her slide means.] Their titles were poor, their linking wasn’t good and their structure wouldn’t support it.

They laid out the data in a way that showed the gaps between AOL and its competition in order to show why Yahoo was doing better than they were. They had to show that even thought they both had 10 results, it was about the quality of those results.

Here’s the potential. Put it up front and sell the value. What is the revenue mix? What are the estimated page views and visits of the respective leaders in the space? How much would we make if we were as good as the leader?

That’ll sell.

Once the brass bought it, she told them that they needed to back her up one this and make it clear that Search engine optimization was important to the company. Everyone in the company needed to understand that their part of the company had to work with the SEO plan. It needed to be in the company DNA, not just responsible of the “SEO Team”.

AOL took SEO very seriously. They started rolling it out last year by putting it in the top 3 goals for the company. When people go out onto the web, they go to search, so AOL had to be there.

Where do you start?

  • Create core search team — SMEs: these are the ones who are the experts on SEO. They keep up on the industry and keep everyone on course and up to par. Systems architects: Design the silos Tech lead: Translates for the engineers. Front Liners: SEO leads, silo leaders. Program Managers and Project Managers: Someone’s got to keep the project on track. Program is the overseer, projects are the detail watchers.
  • Set priorities, goals and incentives — Puts the teeth in your plan. Make things urgent or things will just slide by the wayside. AOL made search referals their metrics. Goal: 20-30 percent from search. They tied it into bonuses as incentives.
  • Train, Train, Train — They created SEO certification. Take the test, pass the test, get certified. Fail the test, time to find a new job.
  • Set Internal Standards — Know what is important SEO wise, set up best practices and define who is doing what.
  • Provide Tools — People can’t do their jobs without tools. Free tools if you need them. Internal wiki to share resources, keep a running FAQ.
  • Measure and Track (and adjust) – pages indexed (by percent), search referrals (is it growing month over month and by comparison to industry growth), User behavior (abandonment, return visits, page consumption)

Creating a dashboard— search referrals, progress, how everything is going. Where are the weaknesses and strengths? Search referrals/overall visits, page views/visit

Final thoughts: You can’t ignore search. You have to have executive buy in. If there is no accountability, there will be no success. Be transparent with your data. Be willing to do what it takes, even if it means being the Wicked Witch of the West instead of the Good Witch of the North.

Dave Roth comes up next to tell us all about Yahoo. His middle name is not Lee. Sad times.

He says that there’s a new breed of exec out there. There weren’t VPs of search and SEO and SEM at the big companies. It says a lot about the industry and its future.

Disclaimer: the numbers in the presentation are made up.

Search Marketing at Yahoo!
Why do they do it? They’ve been the biggest site for a long time. They do it the same reasons everyone else does. Traffic, revenue. It’s the best way to get customers. They do SEO or SEM for just about every one of their properties. They do it among a number of business models — subscription, ad supported, transactional…just about everything but straight e-tail. They use a lifetime value method. What the present value? What’s the acceptable profit margin? It’s a little different for SEO, you need to make some assumptions but it still works pretty well.

If you can’t attach value to it, you can’t get it done.

Central groups provide training, standards, best practices, reporting. Other teams do well. They don’t get special treatment from yahoo search (aw.) but they do get limited data. They use tools like Yahoo! Buzz. And they work with YSearch for internal tools to try to make tools to better spider.

Quantifying Opportunity — Their team says “If you can’t quantify it, it doesn’t exist.”

  • Establish predictive models for SEO traffic. The goal is to get the executives to say yes.
  • Built virtual SEO ‘clickspace’ for properties.
  • Compare ‘virtual’ performance against SEO competitors.
  • Identify gaps – Find out who is beating you where.
  • Attach value – use life time value to get to the ‘Show me the money’ space.
  • Rinse and Repeat.

Infusing SEO into the Process — Phase one Concept: competitor research, strategies for attracting traffic and links, partner and affiliate SEO possibilities
Phase two Wireframes: site architecture considerations, URL structure internal linking structure planning, SEMantic setup and benchmarking
Phase three Design: Wording& Use of keywords, AJAX Flash and CSS, contention distribution and layout

Each stage of product development has its own steps so that any team working at any stage knows what they have to do in order to serve SEO functions.

Organizing around SEO — SEO program manager  SEO product development manager  SEO property managers  SEO producers (keeps an eye on what’s published) and SEO analysts (keeps an eye on the value).

Measuring Success — they use an SEO scorecard internally to track how successful they are. They built an index based on the same methodology as the predictive model and track it over time. They refine it as necessary.

Again, there is an executive dashboard that gives at a glance data so that you can see things in an easily consumed way.

They’re doing basic SEO on a very large scale.

Quantify it and value it. Train everyone, hold people accountable. Attach it to people’s personal revenue — bonus or salary or pay. Infuse SEO into the development process.

Maile Ohye is up next for Google. She’s a support engineer for webmaster central. Aw, she’s all like speech class practiced. And she’s…not talking about SEO at Google. She’s totally off topic. Hrm, I’ll take notes but just be warned that she’s not going to actually say anything particularly helpful.

SEO how not to’s: Common mistakes [the following is a pitch for Webmaster Central. If you read this blog and aren’t using it, hi, welcome to the internet.]

Translate content without modifying site structure to international sites:
–using IP delivery can lead to German content getting shown on an English site.
Using the same URL to serving Googlebot different content from users = cloaking and that’s against their guidelines.

Search ranking can be influenced by information relating to URL’s language and location.

Users/browsers have language preference to respect. Just because someone lives in Germany doesn’t mean they don’t want English content.

When designing for IP delivery, keep the content largely the same. Make the dynamic portion small. If the change is substantial, create a separate URL.

Webmaster Tools just came out with a geolocation tool. You can use that.

[This is so not at all what this session is supposed to be about. Just FYI, Google, if you want to hit these points, awesome. Do it some place appropriate next time, please.]

Flash/AJAX are pretty but not properly crawled. (See previous session notes regarding designing with Flash.)

Opportunities in video/book/local/etc — submit your content at Webmaster Central to all the verticals.

They’re using video to reach people (this is almost on topic!). Matt’s videos are a viral way to reach out to users and webmasters.

Fundamental SEO truths — They design for accessibility and speed and easy navigation.
She shows the ‘what if Google actually did SEO on their site’ presentation. And yeah, not pretty.

For Google, their SEO is delivering great service. [Their other SEO strategy? HAVING 60 PERCENT MARKET SHARE. No wonder they don’t have an SEO person. It’s good to be the king.]

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
Filed under: SEO
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One Reply to “SEO and Big Search”

Good to see AOL and Yahoo embracing SEO and being open about it. Sadly and this isn’t to start a Google/Bash, they just keep rolling along thinking we want to hear them talk, about themselves, and not what people want to hear. They would make great politicians.

Thanks for the great post!

David Thurman


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